Sorrow Songs and Mbira Music: Du Bois, Mapfumo, and the Power of Music
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AbstractThis article examines how music functions as social commentary on a group’s lived experience and as a tool to inform identity. Music is a data source that articulates historical and cultural contexts and can thus be utilized as social commentary to socially construct the identity of people of African ancestry and descent. The "sorrow songs" are the music genre created by slaves in the American South and were considered by W. E. B. Du Bois as the most important historical narrative for African Americans. In comparison, the more contemporary "mbira music" or Chimeranga (rebellion) songs of Thomas Mapfumo, led the liberation struggle against colonialism in Zimbabwe. His music played a journalistic role in communicating with the masses. Several theoretical perspectives were employed in this study which included Du Bois’ inductive, empirical framework for the study of "the Negro problems"; Georg Simmel’s perspective on the role of music in society; Berger and Luckmann’s social construction of reality; and O'Shaughnessy and Stadler's social construction of the media. This paper uses content analysis to analyze the musical lyrics of both genres. These musical forms shed light on Du Bois' understanding of the veil and double consciousness within the African American experience and Zimbabwe's struggle for liberation respectively. Points of intersection between the two genres provide insight into how music creates knowledge and constructs social reality.